ACTRESS, PHOTOGRAPHER, PUBLIC RELATIONS DIRECTOR
A CRITIC REMINISCES
You think you know someone. I wonder. I thought I knew Laura Durant.
In a town full of very good public relations people, Laura ranks right at the top. An accomplished photographer, a fine wordsmith, in our early acquaintance I thought she simply was dedicated to promoting others – and doing it wonderfully.
Then I saw her on stage. As folks are fond of saying on Facebook and Twitter, OMG!
It was in the days when Southwest Shakespeare Company was performing at a high school in the East Valley. The production was Romeo and Juliet. Laura was playing Juliet’s nurse.
I have seen some excellent Nurses in my day. To begin with, Edna Mae Oliver in the 1936 movie. Then, in the fall of 1960, I was in London and my Uncle Golden took me to see Franco Zeffirelli’s production at the Old Vic, starring John Stride and Judi Dench as the doomed lovers. I faintly recall them. I remember quite vividly Peggy Mount’s nurse.
Laura’s Nurse can walk comfortably in those footsteps. It’s an important role – did you realize the Nurse has the third largest number of lines in the play? – and it’s a complex one. The Nurse is by turns bawdy, waspish, sentimental, compassionate and loving. She is Juliet’s protector, much more so than the girl’s parents.
Laura hit all of these notes spot on – but she also brought a femininity to the role that is sometimes overlooked. We forget that the Nurse was once a girl, a girl with dreams. The Nurse understands Juliet’s desires and wants the best for her as a woman. Without any specific lines from Shakespeare to that effect, Laura got the feeling across beautifully.
Still, at the end of the day, R&J is a tragedy. Laura rose to the occasion.
O woe! O woeful, woeful, woeful day!
Most lamentable day, most woeful day,…
I can still hear her voice.
The second performance that turned my vision of Laura around occurred in Phoenix Theatre’s smaller venue where Nearly Naked Theatre was presenting Equus.
Any theater buff worth his salt knows that Damon Dering’s production was one of the landmarks of Valley theater. It came as close to perfection as it is possible for live theater to come. One of the reasons was Laura.
Equus is the story of a young man with a sexual thing for horses. So deep is his obsession, he begins to regard them as religious icons; so tortured is his vision of them, he blinds them so that they cannot see evil.
Much of the boy’s behavior is the result of his mother’s fanatical religious beliefs. She has left him with the feeling sex is filthy (so when his beloved horses see him in his first attempt at intercourse with a woman, what is he to do but rob them of their sight?) The beauty of Peter Shaffer’s writing is that Dora, the mother, isn’t penned in shades of black. She loves her son, she just loves her God more. She is protective of her son; she just cannot bring herself to accept his behavior. She may very well feel guilt as well as anger and revulsion.
Laura so deftly tread this minefield of emotions that the play, already a work of Greek tragedy, became disturbing in ways that – well, like I said, the production is considered a landmark. Deservedly so.
The fact Laura is an actress capable of complex characterizations doesn’t affect my belief that she is an invaluable part of the theater community in her role as a public relations director. For many years, while I was a critic at the Arizona Republic, Laura carried the flag for actors and theater companies (often working without pay), introducing me to key figures, obtaining photographs and necessary research material and keeping me abreast of what was happening behind the scenes.
She wasn’t a tattler, I don’t mean that. She simply understood that part of theater’s attraction to the public is its “glamorous” side, the “dramatic” side, if you will, of its ins and outs. I never took her for granted. Laura was bound by a code of ethics as severe as those of the journalism profession. She never tried to pull a fast one, or bribe her way into a story. She found the material that made a story compelling and passed it along. After that, she left my ethics in charge.
Finally, I must say a word for Laura Durant, the wife. In the past few years, her husband, Doug, a fine musician and a very witty guy, has struggled with a life-threatening illness. Laura has been caregiver and comforter, while becoming a fierce combatant with the health and insurance professions. She has emerged a warrior and a heroine.
Today, Laura is still out there plugging for her beloved actors and theater troupes. Her production photographs are sought by media outlets. Her head shots rank among the best. She still writes a mean press release.
And she still knocks our socks off with the occasional acting role, the latest of which is the part of Clairee in Steel Magnolias for Scottsdale Community Players (May, 2014).
There are many theater people in Phoenix. There are some people who are theater. Laura Durant takes pride of place among that small, marvelous number.
PHOTOGRAPHS, REVIEWS & THE KITCHEN SINK
2014 “Steel Magnolias.” Director: Judy Rollings. Cast: Patti Davis Suarez, Jamie Sandomire, Laura Durant, Jodie Weiss, Maureen Dias Watson, Ashley Faulkner.